News Column

Hollande, Merkel Mark 50th Anniversary of Friendship Treaty

Jan. 22, 2013

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked the 50th anniversary of the their nations' alliance by agreeing to fresh moves to strengthen European integration.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Merkel however again refrained from offering military help to back up France's effort to roll back Islamic militants in northern Mali.

She described the French military operations in Mali as difficult. However, she went on to say there were no concrete proposals to deploy a joint French-German brigade to defeat the militants.

"In principle, this is possible, but I don't see this for Mali," the chancellor said.

For Hollande, "the idea is not to ask Europeans to participate in an international force, but rather to help the Africans."

"It is they who will provide Mali with the conditions for a return to stability and the possibility of restoring its territorial integrity," the French president added.

Mali was also a focus of talks held on Tuesday between German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere and their French counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Germany has so far dispatched to Mali two transporters to ship troops.

In his comments, the French President thanked Germany for its financial help in underpinning France's operations in Mali and for "immediately providing the political solidarity and material assistance that was expected."

At their press conference, the two leaders said they also plan to boost economic coordination in the European Union, as well as drawing up a series of measures aimed at strengthening Europe's currency union.

These are to be unveiled in May as part of the buildup to the June summit of European leaders.

Merkel told reporters that Paris and Berlin were "aware of our great responsibility" to end the crisis and to ensure economic growth.

The measures include moves to boost economic competitiveness in the eurozone, as the two nations seek to overcome the region's long-running debt crisis.

In addition, Paris and Berlin are to prepare a joint compromise to help kickstart the stalled negotiations on the EU's 2014-2020 budget.

The two leaders also plan to increase funding for joint youth programmes.

"We have to renew the European project," Hollande told a joint session of the two nations' parliament, which was held under the glass dome of the Reichstag, the home of the Bundestag legislature.

"But we are the ones who have to show where the path goes," the French leader said.

The joint meeting of the two parliaments was considered a highpoint of the events marking the signing 50 years ago of the Elysee Treaty, which brought to an end centuries of conflict between the two European powers.

Signed in 1963 by former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President General Charles de Gaulle, the pact also paved the way for the so-called Franco-German alliance that has emerged as the driving force behind European integration.

This culminated in the creation of the euro, which was launched on January 1, 1999.

As the French tricolore flew along side the German flag in Berlin, Hollande was welcomed in Berlin with full military honours by German President Joachim Gauck. The German presidency is a largely ceremonial post.

Paris and Berlin have differed on how to tackle the eurozone debt crisis and in fields such as nuclear energy, which France relies on heavily and Germany is phasing out. Many commentators believe this has not helped with the personal relations between the conservative chancellor and the socialist president.

But at their press conference, both leaders insisted that the two worked well together, notably in the battle to end the debt crisis.

"Judge the results and you'll see: we get along," said Hollande.

At a dinner on Monday, the two leaders had decided to speak with each other using their languages' informal form of address (tu in French, du in German), according to those present.

The anniversary celebrations were to end with a concert hosted by Gauck and a reception.



Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH